Since she was a student at Cathedral High School, Haley Roach dreamed of becoming a lawyer.
She reached that goal in 2019 after graduating from the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.
But she’s not headed for a big law firm. Instead, she’s headed for the U.S. Army, where she will join the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, or JAG Corps, an elite group of military lawyers popularized in movies and television.
“Everything was paid for by the Army, including the cost of textbooks and a monthly stipend to spend however I needed.”
Law school—especially after paying for an undergraduate college degree—can be expensive, and students often finance it with student loans. But as a freshman at the University of Dayton in Ohio, Roach joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) to pay for college.
Like most of her fellow ROTC college peers, Roach said she felt a desire to serve her country. She thought ROTC would provide structure she wanted in college, and the U.S. Army would be good for her professional development.
“Financial concerns were definitely the main reason I looked into ROTC,” Roach said. “What first attracted me to that path was the need to pay for school.”
After Roach paid for her first semester of college—with the help of a scholarship and a loan that she has since paid off—ROTC paid for the rest. “Everything was paid for by the Army, including the cost of textbooks and a monthly stipend to spend however I needed,” she said.
Although she became a commissioned officer after completing the ROTC, she deferred her required four years of active duty service to attend law school back home in Indiana. She had the option to have the Army pay for law school, too, but chose not to.
“Luckily, merit scholarships from McKinney covered law school for me,” Roach said. “While the Army didn’t directly help me pay for law school, I have a hunch that my personal statement about a particularly challenging ROTC experience contributed to my full-ride scholarship.”
As a law student, Roach had several experiences that she believes contributed to her acceptance into the highly competitive JAG Corps, including externships at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana and with Cummins, the Indiana-based manufacturer. She also spent one summer assisting JAG Corps defense attorneys at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
She credits ROTC with helping her accomplish her goals without the stress of student debt. “It was the best decision, personally and professionally, I ever made,” Roach said.
Your Future, For Free (or at least less)
Worried about college costs? There are ways to get started on a great future without a lot of money up front, but you’ll have to be more personally invested. Some ideas:
- Student loan forgiveness programs can help. College graduates may see some relief if they choose to work in public service, education, health care or law. You can learn more at StudentLoans.gov, but be sure to read the fine print: Some teachers have been caught up in costly, frustrating red tape because they mistakenly believed their student loans would be forgiven. In Indiana, the Indiana Bar Foundation’s Richard M. Given LRAP offers student loan forgiveness to lawyers working in eligible legal aid organizations (for more, visit inbf.org).
- Military service has helped many Americans achieve their education goals and create meaningful careers in service to their country. Military tuition assistance is a benefit paid to eligible members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. Each branch is different and has its own way of calculating and awarding benefits, but up to 100 percent of your tuition expenses may be covered in exchange for your service.
You can also prepare for military service and pay for college at the same time through ROTC programs, like law school graduate Haley Roach did. Learn more about the military and educational benefits at military.com.
- Employer programs. Employers love learners because they make better employees. In fact, national companies like Walmart, Starbucks, and Papa Johns are offering tuition plans to find and keep loyal workers. Many Indiana-based companies also offer education benefits to employees, so when you apply for a job, always ask—even if you are applying for your first summer job. Cook Medical, based in Bloomington, Indiana, has developed special programs to help employees earn certificates and associate degrees that will help them advance in careers there, or even earn a high school equivalency diploma. Many companies also offer scholarships to employees, for workers or even family members, so ask your parents if their place of employment has a program.